After selling his company Netscape, Jim Barksdale and his wife, Sally, gave the largest gift ever to improve literacy—$100 million—to start the Barksdale Reading Institute in 2000 in the state of Mississippi, where 700,000 adults couldn’t read at a high-school level. The institute works with public schools and universities to improve teaching of reading and increase the literacy levels of Mississippi students in grades K-3. Finding cost-efficient progress elusive within conventional schools, the BRI in 2010 added a “principal project” which places new highly qualified principals in chronically underperforming schools, giving them wide authority over personnel, curriculum, discipline, grading, etc., and a mandate to improve reading instruction with special teaching and testing. Barksdale’s latest gift, creating the Mississippi Principal Corps at the University of Mississippi, builds upon this approach by producing an annual cohort of specially trained reform-minded principals. A 2012 gift by the Robert Hearin Support Foundation reinforced the program.
- Chester Finn and Kelly Amis, Making it Count: A Guide to High-Impact Education Philanthropy (Thomas Fordham Foundation, 2001)
- News report on the shift to Principal Project, https://hechingerreport.org/in-mississippi-private-money-and-strong-principals-boost-struggling-schools/